Road to the Finals: It’s down to five teams

Around seventy-five percent of the season’s games have been already played and the chase for an NBA finals slot should be down to the five teams who kept on rolling.

The East became a three-cornered race between the Toronto Raptors, the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The West turned out to be what most predicted last December, a showdown between the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors.

Here’s why one should want to see them on their way to the finals:

The Regular Season Beast

The Raptors have been a consistent strong contender during the regular season in the last four years. They finished first in the Atlantic Division three times, second once. Problem is they could not translate their success in the playoffs.

They were very good during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, finishing third and fourth, respectively, in the Eastern Conference. Problem was they faced teams who starred a known playoff killer they could not get past.

Paul Pierce, The Truth, made clutch plays for the Brooklyn Nets and the Washington Wizards in the dying minutes of crucial games to dispose them each time in the first round.

The Raptors came back stronger, each in the next seasons, registering more than 50 wins each time, a first in franchise history.

Again, they ran into another brick wall they couldn’t bring down, Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who dispatch them in the Eastern Finals and Semis, respectively.

It should be the same this year if they are to barge in the finals for the first time in franchise history. They have to somehow get through teams that seemingly know how to handle the playoffs well, James and the Cavs and Kyrie Irving and the Celtics.

Old School Defense

It has been proven that defense wins championships and the Celtics are taking this old school mentality to their approach.

This team, one that cannot be compared to any simply because they are an entirely different batch than those who became the topseed last year, is showing they can shot down offensive teams.

Although, they are often inconsistent on the offensive end, probably due to the lack of big league experience having a rookie and a sophomore in their starting line-up, they produced one of the best runs in recent NBA history early into the season.

They rode on a 16 consecutive win early in the season to serve notice of their probable presence in playoffs despite losing their best, or second best, player in Gordon Hayward, just minutes into their first game of the season.

They have been on a roller-coaster ride since then but are again clicking after the All-Star break, going on a four game winning streak [before narrowly losing to the Rockets last Monday].

This team has shown they can keep-up with the best of the league even with their young but can lock-you-down roster.

If they reached the finals, they should be giving 1980’s fans a nostalgia, that of a hard-nose defensive team going against a high-octane offensive team for the NBA crown.

It’s not the Lakers they will face, but their time-tested old-school philosophy a scrappy East Team mentality could be the real test for these Rockets or Warriors, who are the best of them trigger-happy teams today.

Chasing Greatness

A lot of pundits got Lebron James chasing Air Jordan. An argument that he would never overcome is the Miami Heat and the Cavalier teams he was in that won championships was truly never his alone.

Reason being, he really never had to carry those teams on his back because he had to ask for teammates that could do it with him.

[Recall how Ray Allen hit a Game six tying triple that kept the Spurs at bay from denying him his second crown and Kyrie Irving hitting the go-ahead triple that led to his third crown]

While his youth mat have been the culprit, he was not able to crack the championship jinx until he had Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, and Allen with the Heat and Kyrie Irving and Kevin love with the Cavs.

That could change with the flurry of trades they made prior to the All-Star break.

Could James carry a team on his back? Here is his chance to show everybody he can. He should relish a rematch with the Warriors or a showdown with the Rockets with the Cavs current line-up and be itching to show how he should the opposing team’s best reason for having headaches, not him and his teammates.

High-Octane Offenses

In this era of basketball where high-scoring games are the key to having success, none are comparable to the Warriors and the Rockets in this regard. They are today what the showtime Lakers were in the 80’s.

These teams are mirrors of themselves with regard to lighting up the score board. A lot predicted last December that one of them shall come out as the representative of the West in the finals and that’s what they exactly turned out to be.

Unless some freak injury occurs to both teams that will cripple them badly, the Western Conference Finals should be an exciting shootout. Regardless, of who will remain standing after the dust settles, the Western Conference should be represented by an offense very hard to contain.

Before the season started, many said it was a surefire Cleveland-Golden State rematch in the finals.

Houston, Toronto and Boston came up with uprisings, making their respective cases legitimate, and surprising fans of a possible change in the anticipated flavor.

By: ARMANDO M. BOLISLIS

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